City to further explore a Wellness Complex in the rail corridor

The City of Bemidji will work over the next month to determine the viability of a wellness complex at the rail corridor site.

The city has already invested around $225,000 in professional engineering and consulting services through the St. Paul Port Authority.

Port Authority Director Monte Hillman assured the council that the money already invested in the ambitious redevelopment plans, initially for housing, was not wasted, and that a Wellness Complex may not need as intensive cleanup as it would if it were residential.

The Sanford Power Wellness Complex, according to Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota CEO Susan Jarvis, would include two sheets of ice, a physical therapy area, a wellness area, as well as an aquatic area, including a lazy river and waterslides.

User fees, according to Jarvis, would be a type of sliding scale membership based on income.

Jarvis said the rail corridor location would be better for Bemidji’s downtown.

Sanford Health’s plans include investing up to $15 million on an estimated $33 million facility, partnering with wellness programs, and leasing the building for 20 years, by which time the building should be paid off.

Mayor Jorge Prince, who sits on a steering committee for the project, said it would not be another Sanford Center situation.


Ward 4 council member Emelie Rivera expressed concern about zoning issues, especially traffic on a downtown street.

Another issue posed is the need for land acquisition from the BNSF Railroad, in addition to the parcel the city initially purchased the rail corridor land in 2003.

The rail corridor discussion will likely return before the council around Aug. 16.

The rail corridor is a brownfield site, due to the heavy industrial use in Bemidji’s earlier years of incorporation, with varying levels of contamination.

Hillman says the plan to create capped berms of lightly contaminated soil could stay on site, decreasing the cost of trucking it out with the heavily contaminated soil to Becker, the nearest landfill that is rated for this type of disposal.

In addition to the contamination, Ojibwe artifacts may also be buried within the site, as it sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, between Lakes Irving and Bemidji.

St. Paul Port Authority has a team of cultural resource consultants contracted, which Hillman says will work with area tribes to ensure proper procedure with any artifacts found.


Larissa Donovan is the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting and has been, almost without interruption, since Election Day 2016. She covers all the beats in north-central Minnesota, such as local government, crime, education, environment and social issues. She studied communications at Bemidji State University. You can follow along with Larissa's live tweets of meetings and events on Twitter!

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